It is vitally important to support independent media in order to preserve Belarus.
Any power always loses to journalists, and blocking of websites, criminal cases against editors and bloggers, persecution of journalists clearly show that the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka is going through its “Last Days of Pompeii”, Editor-in-Chief of the Belarusian independent media outlet working from abroad Natallia Radzina said in an interview to the Lithuanian portal DELFI.
According to her, Lukashenka does not control the situation, and there are no resources to prolong his power, while Belarus’ main ally, Moscow, does understand that: “They know it well in Russia. That is why there are neverending talks that the Kremlin is looking for someone to replace him. Indeed, this could happen. However, Putin could also break his teeth on Belarus. Belarusians will resist – both inside the country and abroad.”
At the same time, Radzina thinks, the failure of the European officials to understand the real situation, and the Europeans’ policy towards Belarus create the conditions in which democratic organizations and independent media suffer, as they are denied aid “in order not to irritate the “touchy-feely” Belarusian officials”. The resource headed by the Belarusian journalist is coming through such hardships.
— This year, your media resource has been subjected to blocking. This is not the first, and probably not the last time either, how do you think?
— It would be great if it was the last time! This year, the website Charter’97 celebrated its 20th anniversary. Throughout all these years, they didn’t let us work peacefully for a single day: blocking, various “black lists” of internet-censors, hacking attempts, DdoS-attacks, and, finally, the arrests of the journalists and the murder of our founder Aleh Biabenin.
There is just one thing that pleases me: we survived and continue our work, having won even greater popularity in Belarus and in the world. Any power is destined to lose to the journalists, no matter which means its chooses to suppress them.
The wave of repressions which pounced upon the Belarusian independent media today – blocking of the Charter, criminal cases against editors and bloggers, persecution of freelance journalists – clearly show that we are witnessing the regime’s “Last Days of Pompeii”.
Lukashenka’s time is up. The “chieftain” not only has no gold reserves, he has no resources at all for the prolongation of his being at power. The dictatorship he has been building for the last 24 years, reminds a house of cards today.
The people hate the dictator, spontaneous demonstrations flare up here and there several times a week. It is obvious that the nation is running out of patience. Due to the cut of the Russian subsidies the unreformed economy is falling apart: the wages in the country are $100-200, the pensions are even smaller, the prices are extremely high, the unemployment is growing, but instead of helping people they adopt a law against “parasitism”, following the best traditions of the USSR. Of course, Belarus is no Venezuela by now, but we are moving in the same direction – to the inevitable downfall.
Thus, blocking of the Charter will in no way help the regime, but only cause it more problems in the international arena.
— You said that the funds which traditionally supported the independent media stopped supporting you. What do you think is it connected with, and what really stands behind these denials?
— I believe that this is mostly connected with absolute non-understanding of the real situation in Belarus by the Western bureaucrats. Secondly, it is connected with the policy pursued by the EU officials towards the Lukashenka regime, pointlessly trying to agree on something with that bankrupt, Kremlin’s marionette and pathological liar.
Such policy brings absolutely no results, but, as it happened many times during the previous “dialogues” between the West and Lukashenka, it is the democratic organizations and independent media who suffer first. They start to deny us aid everywhere, in order not to irritate the “touchy-feely” Belarusian officials, so that they, God forbid, don’t stamp their foot and run away with a nervous breakdown from yet another negotiations round. And this is not just my speculation.
A Western diplomat once told me directly: “When we negotiate with your authorities, it’s such organizations as yours that suffer first.” That means, those who stick to the principles in the issues of human rights violations in Belarus, speak about the necessity to hold political and economic reforms in the country, and insist on conducting new free elections, because Lukashenka has not been a legitimate president of Belarus for 20 years by now, remain without support.
The incompetence of some functionaries and managers of funds and their negligence of their duties are not excluded. Believe me, I saw a lot of them. It’s happiness, when people who care about Belarus, really want life there to change for the better, respect the long-term work of the Belarusian journalists, human rights defenders and activists, who often have to make great sacrifices, deal with Belarus. Unhappiness is when bureaucrats are involved in working with Belarus.
But who in the West today supports the GONGOs (Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organization — DELFI), created by the Belarusian special services - answer this question yourself. Unfortunately, this practice has recently become widespread. Democratic organizations barely survive, and the authorities put into their pocket the money meant for the civil society.
— Recently, the European Parliament discussed the problem of propaganda. You were there. How do you think – do they fully comprehend the essence of the problem in Europe?
— In the European Parliament, they certainly do. Within this year, the EP adopted two resolutions with a demand to immediately unblock the website Charter97.org and to stop pressure on the independent media. Herein, there were impressively hot discussions, during which the MEPs defended the Belarusians’ right to free information and called for imposing sanctions on the Lukashenka regime. By the way, I would like to express my gratitude to the Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius, who is actively raising Belarusian issues in the European Union.
However, judging by the fact that today’s independent media in the post-Soviet countries remain in distress, the threat of the Russian propaganda is not fully realized by other European structures. The financing problem was announced not only by the Belarusian Charter. On the same day (by coincidence!), the oldest Russian independent publication, Novaya Gazeta, announced a fund-raising campaign.
I often meet with editors of independent media in Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. And trust me, they all complain about the difficult financial situation, which does not allow their media to continue working, let alone development!
What kind of opposition to the Russian propaganda can European politicians talk about after this? It simply does not exist. There is only shaking of air.
— What can you say about the situation in the Belarusian informational field? What is the situation in your country?
— There is a catastrophic situation. Nine Russian TV-channels, Russian radio stations, newspapers and websites which are multiplying today like mushrooms after rain, are brainwashing the Belarusian public. Lukashenka, as a response, destroys the Belarusian democratic media, which base on the ideas of the Belarusian independence.
His own “kolkhoz” propaganda is aimed only at prising the leader, insolently lying about the level of life of the Belarusian citizens, and no one watches it, so that not to spit on a TV screen. As for the Russian lies, they do have an influence on Belarusians: Putin’s propaganda is more sophisticated, based on psychology and easily contaminates the minds of people who don’t get any alternative information.
— What, in your opinion, could change the situation?
— In the countries where the influence of the Russian propaganda is most strong, first of all, it is necessary to support independent media that have been operating for decades, which have a large and loyal audience, which people trust.
We must uphold the right of peoples to receive free information, demanding harshly on dictators such as Lukashenka to stop repressions against independent journalists. For example, for blocking such a popular site as Charter’97, it is necessary to impose sanctions. Quickly and without talking. Then it will be real fight against the Russian propaganda, and not fiction.
— It looks like the dialogue of the EU and the Belarusian authorities continues. What do you think about it?
— This is not a dialogue. This is a conversation between a blind person and a deaf person. I look at it extremely negatively. It does not lead to any changes for the better. On the contrary: due to the fact that the West, carried away by the “dialogue”, ceases to pay the necessary attention to the violation of human rights in Belarus, the dictatorial regime has gone on the loose. The media is being destroyed, trade union leaders are arrested, the opposition is constantly under pressure, the elections are brazenly falsified. And European officials, with their voyages to Minsk, legitimize this outrage.
However, let us be honest: many come here not to soft-talk the elderly dictator. Smuggling flows bypassing Russian and European sanctions are now going through Belarus, and some officials are ordinary lobbyists of the business interests.
— There is an issue of the construction of the Astravets NPP over a Russian project in Belarus. There is no decisive opposition to this project in the EU, only from the side of Lithuania. What is this connected with?
— I think Lithuanian politicians will give you a better answer to this. I can only say that, surely, all European countries should support Lithaunia in its opposition to the NPP construction in Belarus. An NPP under Lukashenka can be even more horrible than Chernobyl.
— Not very long ago Vladimir Putin spoke about the NPP construction in Belarus “to own disadvantage”. To whose disadvantage, do you think, this project is implemented, in the actual fact?
— Of course, this is a political project. With the construction of the NPP for the Russian loans, Putin “binds” Belarus even more. Then, it can also be a tool for blackmail and intimidation of Europeans. Note that Mr. Putin finds it normal to frighten the world with nuclear weapons today.
— One of the events was held in Minsk as part of the Munich Security Conference. How should this be regarded?
— I have one analogy — Munich-1938 and Minsk-2018. The numbers are similar, and the essence is the same. Holding such events in a dictatorial country is another defeat of European politics. We know from history what attempts to pacify a dictator lead to.
Lukashenka clearly had some sort of a delirium at the opening of the Munich conference. Here are some quotations for your attention:
“Let’s wait and see what happens to the democracy in the Western Europe. If even the sophisticated Germans did not appreciate Merkel’s role in the modern history and are trying to throw her away to the sidelines of history...”
“You keep on blabbering about some democracy, without even trying to study the processes that are happening here, at the post-Soviet space”.
“I often say: you will come here soon to study our democracy, because it’s stability and normal life of the people that lies in its basis.”
“Girls should not be afraid to wear skirts at school. What democracy, what human rights can we talk about here?”
“The talks about nuclear weapons, about missile wielding are harmful, and Donals, as a young politician, does not understand this.”
So, what can the Western officials talk about with such a person? What do they agree upon? The diagnosis here is obvious.
— What can you say about the policies of the neighboring countries – Lithuania, Latvia, Poland – with regard to Belarus?
— We are thankful to Lithuania and Poland for the support of the independent media in Belarus. I believe that other European countries should also find equilibrium in their relations with the Belarusian authorities.
— How should the relations between, for instance, Latvia and Belarus, or Belarus and Ukraine, be assessed?
— Sadly, the authorities of both Latvia and Ukraine got too much carried away by the games of “real politics”, having put economic interests above everything. The lack of clear moral priorities, principled stance to democracy issues in the foreign policy inevitably leads to problems in the domestic policy.
As a result, we see today how unpopular president Poroshenko, who hugs with Lukashenka on a regular basis, is, and how big the influence the pro-Russian forces have in Latvia. You cannot sit on two chairs – the fall is inevitable.
— What is Belarus’ key priority in its relations with Russia? Does Lukashenka control the situation?
— Lukashenka is unable to control himself, let alone the situation. He is a bankrupt, both economically and politically. They know it perfectly well in Russia – hence the neverending talks that Kremlin is allegedly looking for a replacement to him. And indeed, this could happen. However, Putin could as well break his teeth on Belarus.
Belarusians will resist, both inside the country and abroad. Thank God it’s not 1938, and an Anschluss of a country in the center of Europe will cause serious consequences.
Pro-European democratic forces now perform the function of a guarant of the Belarusian independence. And they badly need the world’s support and solidarity today.
It will be recalled that on September 3 editor-in-chief of Charter-97 Natallia Radzina announced the threat to informational resource cause by drastic reduction in financing and called readers for solidarity. Ways to support the website:
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